Medjugorje which takes its name from a Croatian idiom meaning "between the mountains," goes back to the late 13th Century when the Franciscans first arrived around 1298 in the area known as Dalmatia. It had previously been part of the Byzantine Empire which, before that was the western part of Macedonia inhabited by Slavs. Prior to that the area was part of the Roman Empire. The split of Rome and Constantinople was echoed in the split of the Slavic people with the Serbs and Bulgarians being influenced toward the Greek Orthodox faith through the efforts of Saints Cyril and Methodius in 864. The Croats were won over by the strong Roman Catholic influence of the Franks who had converted to Christianity in 497 AD. The Croatian influence and faith has lasted for fifteen centuries, aided greatly by the heroic missionary efforts of the Dominicans and Franciscans who had traveled with the Crusades, preaching to the Croats during their land journeys, with many of the Friars staying and establishing missions.
This was the case early in the 14th Century when a group of Franciscans decided to stay in this tiny mountain village during the persecuted reign of Pope Boniface VIII and the territorial and political influence of the Catholic Austrian Hapsburg family which had become a major territorial power. Though other missionaries had tried to convert the Dalmatian mountain lands, it was the simplicity of the Franciscans, mirroring the ideals of their founder from Assisi, that endeared the friars to the people. The Franciscans were revered because they related to the people from the beginning. They came in poverty, wearing only their robes and, like St. Francis, carried only sacks of bibles and bread to share. The never asked for anything more. The people could see their sincerity and thus was established a holy love affair between the people and the Franciscans that lasts to this day and age. Less than a hundred years after settling this area, shortly after the terrible plague of the mid-14th Century Black Death which ravaged all of Europe, the area became part of the state of Bosnia. The scourge of the Bubonic Plague had weakened the Hapsburg hold, allowing the Turks to invade. In 1389, Bosnia was incorporated into part of the Ottoman Empire as a result of the conquests of the Ottoman ruler Sultan Yildirim Bayezid, who was known and feared as the "Thunderbolt." After the conquest of the Turkish Sultan Fatih Mehmed, known as the "Conqueror," in 1463 the Serbian kingdom disappeared, followed by the absorption of much of Bosnia, the area in southern Bosnia was divided, becoming Herzego or Hercegovina with the capital set in Mostar, 30 miles from Medjugorje. The Byzantine and Ottoman architecture of Mostar, much of what was sadly destroyed over the last few years, is a testimony to this era. Hercegovina remained under Ottoman influence with a mix of Turkish Islams and Roman Catholics. The Turkish influence brought the Muslims into Croatia, Bosnia, and Hercegovina. Serbs from Bulgaria, Russia and Greece infiltrated the land and there was much cross-breeding through the centuries. In virtually every century the Croats, Serbs and Muslims have been at odds over something as the three major forces of faith - the Western Church, the Eastern Church, and the followers of Mohammed sought to live in harmony. We can see from history how the ethnic struggles simmered until exploding into full-blown war 500 years later. The bitterness runs deep. Herzegovina had been administered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire since the time of the Hapsburgs, but in 1908 Bosnia too was annexed by the Triple Alliance of Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy, renaming the area Bosnia-Hercegovina. This annexation revived the fires of nationalism. Though the Croats, Serbs and Muslims had always fought bitterly among themselves, they would have no part of outsiders. This unity destroyed the unity of the Powers and in 1912 the Croats, Serbs and Muslims formed the Balkan States in an effort to expel the Turks from Macedonia. However after successfully fending off foreign influence, they returned to the internal feuding as the Serbs and Greeks annexed most of Macedonia.
In 1914, three years before Our Lady would appear at Fatima in Portugal, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated on June 18th in Sarajevo. It was extremist Croatian efforts to suppress the Austrian influence that Ferdinand, nephew and next in line to Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, was killed. This murder provoked the outbreak of World War I. Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina were once again annexed by Austria-Hungary and were forced into alignment with the Triple Alliance again. With the defeat of the these powers by the United States, France and England, the Franco-Belgian military convention agreed to the Czehoslovak-Yugoslav defensive alliance to avert Hungarian revisionism. In 1918, as an aftermath of President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points for World Peace, the Serbo-Croatian-Slovene Kingdom of Yugoslavia was proclaimed. After centuries of fighting among themselves, they were now forced to live in harmony. Though it might work in America, the resentment and long bitter ethnic struggles ran too deep to really work though they put on a unified front to the rest of the world, while underneath seethed an ethnic bitterness that spilled over in blood in 1991. Through the regime of Marshall Tito the Yugoslav Republic even put on a facade that Communism really worked. In 1945, Hercegovina, which lies along both banks of the Neretva River near Medjugorje, joined the Western region of Bosnia to form the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the foundations were shaky and, on the tenth anniversary of the Apparitions of Medjugorje - June 25, 1991 the Croatian people had the opportunity to choose their own destiny in voting for independence from Yugoslavia and Serbian domination. Overwhelmingly Croatia and Slovenia opted for freedom which was quickly countered by the suppressing Serbs directed from Belgrade, seat of the Serbian stronghold. Recognized by the United Nations and the U.S. as independent countries, Croatia felt the brunt of Serbian retaliation but fended off the brutal attacks. The cost: countless lives, demolished churches and monasteries, millions left homeless! The crown jewel of the Adriatic Coast - Dubrovnik, the old walled city that withstood the fatal Bubonic Plague - the Black Death which claimed over 75 million people from 1347 to 1351 - was systematically destroyed by Serbian gunships, air power and ground militia. In 1992 Bosnia-Hercegovina, tired of Serb suppression, also voted for independence and their reward was a full onslaught of genocide and ethnic cleansing unparalleled in history - even more grotesque than Hitler's infamous Holocaust and second only to the terrible sin of abortion. Many have termed this war a civil war. Oh, how wrong they are for this is truly a religious war and satan is having a field day! It is just as Jesus prophesied in Mark 13: 7-8, "When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; for they must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These things are the beginning of sorrows." Kingdom against kingdom refers both to Heaven vs. hell and the ethnic groups fighting amongst themselves. The Muslims remain loyal to their Allah, while the Serbs cling to their Eastern Orthodox Church which not only is not in alignment with Rome, but a far cry from the devout Orthodox faith. Many Roman Catholic Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina fight valiantly as Soldiers of Christ for their Faith. For many their only weapon is the Rosary. And this faith and devotion is what the Serbians hate most, attacking every church they can, destroying monasteries, demoralizing parishioners. Over a 1000 churches, basilicas, cathedrals and chapels have been destroyed by the ruthless Serbs and Moslems.
Though Medjugorje has been a target, God has protected this special Oasis of Peace in many miraculous ways as we shall see in the next installment next issue when we deal with: Preparing for the Apparitions in part II of this special anthology on Medjugorje in commemoration of the upcoming seventeenth Anniversary.